Why I like the desert

Why I like the desert.

For the first 7 or 8 years of my journey as a Christian I was passionately dedicated to the church. Then I had a string of experiences that almost destroyed any hope I had to see the church become what it could be. For years I went in to what I affectionately call the desert. I left my ministry career behind. At that time I didn’t want any part of my life to become dependant on any formalized church. There were some that questioned the direction I took at that time. The obvious objection was that I needed accountability or some kind of “covering”. This kind of feedback irritated me, but for the most part I disregarded it. The idea that you need to be a member of some human institution to reap the benefits of a faith community is false. Many of those who abandon “church” are seeking true Christian community. They aren’t avoiding it.

Even though I was taking my journey in to the desert” I didn’t stop attending Sunday morning services. I even lead a small group, preached etc… I never stopped contributing to the Christian community I was in. Today I’m faithfully serving in two Christian institutions. My recent bible college experience proved to me that some very good things can happen in an institution.

The desert has some very good qualities to it. Although I never considered myself alone, my faith journey became my own responsibility. A student can only become as advanced as their teacher. Ultimately our primary teacher must be the Holy Spirit. In any kind of group (organized or not) there is a temptation to follow each other rather than following Christ. Churches are notorious for creating inert isolated subcultures resilient to new ideas and new interpretations. Independent Charismatic and staunchly conservative evangelical churches compound this with a sense of spiritual superiority. These different factors often create a pool of ignorance.

My trip in to the desert separated me from this. I was better able to read scripture without bias. I re-examined all the old answers to the common questions. Instead of operating on autopilot I was far more sensitive to what scripture might really be saying. I became increasingly critical of the shallowness of modern evangelicalism.

I found that when I was intensely involved in a group I found myself comparing my life to the group standard. When I was in the desert I found myself comparing my life to a biblical standard. There are important aspects to the biblical Christian life that the church subculture ignores.

For years I’ve had one foot in the conservative and one in the charismatic. I marvelled at how conservatives could ignore the role of the Holy Spirit while claiming such a high” view of scripture. Equally I marvelled at the charismatics who began worshiping experiences rather than God and believed effective ministry is how many people who knock down or prophesy over after the sermon.

How do groups get like this? When you grow up in a subculture you absorb its world view with all of its assumptions, bias and ignorance. You believe you are following scripture and Jesus but you are just following the groups collective world view. Scripture stands a marvellous guide out of this ignorance but people rarely read scripture humbly and critically.

I corrected an assignment for a college level class on Corinthians. The assignment was to summarize different sections of Corinthians. I was shocked to see how many people could read a plain section of scripture and read their own assumptions in to the text. It was like this mystical transformation happened between the letters on the page and the brain.

Now I’m integrated in to a formal Christian community I haven’t lost my love for the desert. I like to withdraw every once in while to gain a different perspective. I have multiple conversation partners” that live outside my group that can offer a fresh perspective on things.

In one sense we all need to take personal responsibility for our own faith journey. In another sense God started our faith journey and He will carry it on. My desert experience showed me that if I really want to give God the opportunity to make me the man I’m called to be I can’t just follow the crowd. I can’t blindly accept every interpretation and application of scripture passed my way. I need to truly seek out the kingdom of God like it was a lost coin.

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